On a Friday in February, a very profane atheist threw a lot of Bible verses at me to challenge the goodness of God. He brought up verses from the Old Testament questioning why a good God would support His prophets and David who declared and carried out death on people (including children) in the name of the Lord. This is often a question from even Christians. (And this atheist claimed to have once been a Christian for 29 years.)
God’s goodness is often misinterpreted when there is an examination of scripture without yielding to the teaching of the Holy Spirit. In St. John chapter 14-16, Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit, referring to Him as the Comforter. Reading God’s Word will continue to tune a Spirit-filled believer in with the Holy Spirit’s voice and direction. One verse proving this is John 14:26 where Jesus said in the latter part of the verse that the Holy Spirit would bring back to our remembrance what Jesus said.
Before I write an explanation on God’s Law under the old Covenant compared to His Law being fulfilled through Jesus Christ under the new Covenant, I would like to point out why an unbeliever will never be able to comprehend God’s Word:
You Must Be Born Again
St. John 3:3-7
(3) Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (4) Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? (5) Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (7) Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
In order for a person to be born again, that person must first die to self. He or she must face a grave reality that his or her current life of sin, resulting in complete separation from God, will lead to eternal damnation. A person must be willing to bury his or her old self, never to be resurrected in any way. There is no admirable or commendable trait, that ever received honor, worth holding on to from the past person who was separated from God.
This burial is symbolic. But it is also so relevant to the person’s life that this person no longer lives for the self that has been buried.
As the old person is buried, the new person is “risen” into a life abiding in Jesus Christ through faith in Him as Savior and Lord – Whose body was the Ultimate Sacrifice that paid the penalty of our sins. By His love and grace, the Father gave Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, to finish the penalty of our sins at the cross. Only those who believe by faith on Jesus Christ (Who is God the Son, being God’s Word Himself) have salvation through this grace given to us.
Any rejection of God’s Word is indication that a person has not believed by faith on Jesus because, again, Jesus is the Word of God (St. John 1:1, 14). According to St. John 1:12, God gave us power to become His children when we receive Jesus Christ for Who He is (being the Word of God Himself, being the only begotten Son of the Father Who gave Him as the Ultimate Sacrifice that pays the penalty for sin which separates man from God, being Savior of those who believe by faith, and being our Lord Who sanctifies his believers by His cleansing Word – St. John 15:3, St. John 17:17 and Ephesians 5:26). This is what it means to be born again.
And a born again person has become a new creature (II Corinthians 5:17). But just because the born-again person is a new creature does not mean that the transformation stops there. There is ongoing growth. (For no moment can I figure out why so many Christian bloggers out there rebuttal the preaching of obedience to God’s Word and change when Paul hammered on it in his epistles as follow-up to the lovingly firm teachings of Christ Himself.)
Yes, when you are born again, you do genuinely desire and care about changing continuously to reflect His Word in your very life – from your secret places in fear of Him to your public places for His glory. Sometimes you change joyously – fully motivated. Other times you change by the rebuke of God’s Word directly or indirectly through fellow believers. Sometimes you struggle and battle your flesh down until there is subjection of that flesh to an obedient spirit, which is willing to submit to God. This is the life of a born-again believer.
A person who is not willing to deny himself in the manner of becoming born again (St. Luke 9:24) will not comprehend the Word. Even if this person decides to go through the motions of believing, he or she will not be a born again believer without the true faith as defined by God’s Word. That’s why Jesus said that you cannot place new wine into old wineskins. That old wineskin will burst because it cannot contain the new wine. Translated to our lives, a new lifestyle in Jesus Christ cannot be contained in the heart of a person who has not been born again. This is a problem among many atheists who believe that they were once Christians. This is the problem with the atheist who challenged me in February. He thought he actually was a Christian because he went through the motions for twenty-nine years. And he’d probably challenge me head-on that he was sincere. A person can definitely sincerely go through the motions – and show a number of fruits pointing to still being the old creature:
Patting himself or herself on the back for his or her good deeds done in the name of Jesus;
Becoming more knowledgeable in God’s Word for the purpose of proudness and boastfulness as opposed to knowing it for the pure desire to know and obey the Lord;
Going to church to pacify God as opposed to going for the totality of why He called His believers to assemble;
And doing other fruitless gestures from a heart that’s not actually converted.
If the new lifestyle is in the old heart that was never buried, the person can certainly go before the Lord and ask for that change by believing on His Word by faith. Be willing to give up yourself. Give up what you personally think about overall life. Give up what you think God ought to do or allow. Give up what you desire that opposes God’s Word. Give up what would glorify you. Give up your personal thrones – regardless of what position you may hold in life. (If you’re great in position like a prince, become like a servant and see yourself as deserving of the same punishment as any sinful penniless mugger on the streets.) Give up your personal methods of obeying God in exchange for His Word alone. Give up yourself running your own life for His Lordship. And bury that old person you’re giving up in order to raise up as a new person in Jesus Christ.
[There are many preachers right now who are persecuted for preaching Lordship messages because bloggers think Lordship messages like this take away from grace. But don’t define grace just by reading a few isolated verses. If you read it all (Matthew 4:4), you will learn even greater grace and grace encompassing a deeper encounter than someone’s surface explanation of it, keying in only on isolated passages.]
In St. Matthew below, you will notice that Jesus spoke to crowds in parables. He explained to His disciples why He spoke in parables. There are seeing eyes, hearing ears, and perceiving hearts that just are not going to comprehend God’s Word. The gospel is hidden to those whose hearts are “waxed gross” (v. 15) This means they are closed-minded to His Word. In fact, in that verse, Jesus said that these people have closed their eyes. Closing our eyes is a deliberate action.
It is human nature to see what we want to see, to hear what we want to hear, and to shut our hearts to anything that we do not really want. This is what happens to those who do not truly want the gospel. This is what happened to atheists who read the Word and then got upset. They are unable to perceive It as It is.
Am I saying that a believer understands all of the Word? No. A believer is willing to shut his or her own understanding up and remain open to the Holy Spirit’s teaching of God’s Word – primarily through quality time in the Word alone with God and secondarily through messages by teachers who are truly teaching God’s Word without twisting It.
[There will be times of disagreeing with the delivery of the Word. But a person abiding in Christ will discern who is truly submitted to the Lord as a teacher or preacher. As a non-Calvinist, I can receive the teachings by Brother Paul Washer and Dr. Voddie Baucham. And as a non-Arminianist, I can receive teachings by Leonard Ravenhill, who was labeled as one and was well-received by Brothers Washer and Baucham. (Neither John Calvin nor Jacob Arminius were crucified for us. I Corinthians 1:11-13)]
Receiving God’s Word in private and from one God’s true ministers means not receiving it with private interpretation of the Word to suit our own agendas but studying and meditating on It as we seek out the Spirit’s revelation of It. And believers with the attitude of little children, in their humility and lacking self-reliance, are able to seek Him this way and find through Him the meaning of His Word.
St. Matthew 12:3-23
(3) And He spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; (4) And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: (5) Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: (6) And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. (7) And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: (8) But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. (9) Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. (10) And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? (11) He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. (12) For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. (13) Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. (14) And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: (15) For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. (16) But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. (17) For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. (18) Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. (19) When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. (20) But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; (21) Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. (22) He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. (23) But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
Notice that the disciples went to Jesus apart from the crowds to ask questions. You can see this throughout the gospels. They listened to the messages and the parables and later went to Him inquiring of the meanings. Jesus will allow you to read or hear His Word. But do you have within your heart such desire for Him that you will seek out the meaning, without applying your own meaning? Are we willing to say, “I know nothing. But He knows everything.” Most people who are intellectual and highly acclaimed can’t make that statement. They just don’t believe that each individual, including themselves, know nothing. And for some, it would be easier to conclude that than to say that an invisible God knows everything.
I Corinthians 1:18
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
For anyone who has ever doubted, pondered, or even been confronted by a believer the way I was by the atheist, I hope my above explanation can help shed light on salvation and the cleansing of God’s Word.
The Law Under The Old Covenant
The atheist who challenged God told me that God is evil because of the many circumstances where His prophets and kings (such as David) were allowed to declare and carry out the deaths of people, including children.
Before I answer his accusation, let me say this up front in fear of Almighty God: I’m not about to excuse or pamper anybody who wants to challenge God in any way. About to feel like an insensitive heel (which I often feel like) I once had to meditate on the Lord’s Word about empathizing with anybody who was angry with Him and I received no check in my spirit to empathize, though I am to lovingly minister to anyone feeling that way. So, for anybody who would blatantly curses God and call Him evil, I offer no empathy whatsoever. But I offer His Word. I don’t even agree with hogwash popular statements that say, “You must forgive God.” He is not a man that should be seen as ever needing our forgiveness. That is grave presumptuousness that should not be taught by us who believe. Here’s my reason why: His Word in Isaiah 45:9 says, “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?”
So, having pointed that out…
Those who lived under the old Covenant were living under the Law before it was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. They were also living under the Law before grace was given through Jesus Christ. Certainly, Israel and many people who lived for God received a foretaste of His grace. But the penalty of sin was accomplished in the blood Sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ. Then, came the new Covenant, through which we can go to the Father through Jesus Christ alone by grace on His part and by faith on ours. His grace encompasses forgiveness and a close walk with Him by baptism in the Holy Spirit for Gentile believers along with Jewish believers.
In the Old Testament, sins and opposition from pagan nations were confronted with serious penalties – many times to the point of death as consequence on people of all ages. Even if there were exceptions to death, consequences were grave as in the case of David’s sin with Bathsheba (which did result in death of three sons and rape of a daughter), plagues in Egypt that eventually led up to the drowning of soldiers in pursuit of the released Hebrew slaves, and the captivity of Israel’s children in Babylon. Sins committed at all ages, regardless of how minor the human heart can perceive the sin, had to be answered because of the serious offense that sin is in God’s sight.
God hates sin. This is misunderstood by the atheist who pointed out that Elisha spoke death in the name of the LORD on the children making fun of his baldness. From that point, two female bears devoured those children. From what we see as smallest to greatest sins, the wages of sin (all sin) is death, while the gift of God is eternal life (Romans 6:23). That gift, the life of Jesus Christ, was born to a virgin years upon years after Adam had brought sin (and the penalty of it) upon human beings.
Sin, which the Lord so hates, must be answered. It cannot just float undealt with. God just did not accept that as something that He would allow. (He gave His only begotten Son for this reason.) So, to see sin answered in the Old Testament appears incredibly harsh to the natural mind. In II Samuel 6:5-12, even David was upset when the Lord smote Uzzah for touching the ark of God in order to stable it as it was being carried. But God had already instructed Israel on how the ark of the LORD was to be handled. To handle it outside the parameters that the LORD had set required the penalty of disobedience explained as “error” in the King James Version of the Bible.
When the atheist brought up Elisha’s encounter with the children, speaking death on them in the name of the LORD for mocking him, all I could tell him was that Elisha did not qualify to die for us on the cross. We can certainly look at the acts of righteous people in the Old Testament and become disturbed. We could also become disturbed by God sending punishment –even to the point of death – on all who those righteous people opposed. Again, one of God’s reasons for this is because the wages of sin is death.
Why the psalmists, prophets, and kings declared death and destruction on their enemies is because, for only one reason that I can see, the grace to come was not experienced fully by them as we experience grace under the new Covenant. Grace received can be grace given. If the people of God did not experience full grace, they were unable to distribute it fully. This is what I see in the Word.
The Law Fulfilled Through Jesus Christ Under The New Covenant
The disciples James and John tried that harsh-type of retaliation which had been carried out by those in the Old Testament and got nowhere with Jesus. In fact, Jesus rebuked them.
St. Luke 9:51-56
(51) And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, (52) And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. (53) And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. (54) And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? (55) But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. (56) For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.
These disciples were aware of the penalties of sins demonstrated in the history with which they were familiar. So were the Pharisees familiar with the penalties of sins. And they tried carrying out death on sins, too. Remember they tried to stone an adulteress until Jesus calmly told them that whoever was without sin could cast the first stone. Jesus taught us grace through His Word, demonstrated it, and mandated it once His time had come to teach and do miracles. Then, He crossed us over into that grace at the cross.